Sunday, July 9, 2017

Don't be jerks

I sometimes wonder if the best starting point for a lot of mainline churches to figure out how to move forward (whatever that turns out to be) would be to put a sign on their most public lawn saying, very simply, "We don't hate you." Nothing fancy, not clubbing folks over the head with a Bible verse, just a very simple "We don't hate you."

Once when I expressed that opinion a ministry colleague responded that such would require the church to live up to it. That colleague had a point.

While away this weekend I met a lot of people, but one in particular (really, one family in particular) struck me. The mom of the family was actually on the program staff of the conference in question, despite not being a Presbyterian (it happens, actually fairly often). In fact she is a member of a much more conservative evangelical denomination. She's worked with Presbyterians and the conference center in particular quite a few times, though, and has gotten relatively comfortable working with PC(USA) types, enough so that (in her words) moving to PC(USA) would not be that hard.

If such a move ever does happen, though, I don't think it will be because of getting called upon to work with Presbys. It will be because of her daughter.

That daughter is in high school, fun age that that is. She is what might be called by some "quirky" or a "free spirit"; she is, by mom's description, not great at conforming to the rigidities of modern education, and doesn't play the shoot-for-Harvard game that is usually thrust upon kids with her test scores. When I met her, her hair was an undecided shade somewhere between purple and lavender, and she was wearing a t-shirt proclaiming her Harry Potter house -- not that such is all that uncommon, but it wasn't Gryffindor, which I don't see as much.

This young woman has, apparently, a pretty miserable time not just in school but also in the denomination to which that family belongs. She ends up much less stressed when she joins up with activities in the PC(USA), be it in local churches or larger gatherings (she was in fact arriving for a week upcoming at the same conference center). Apparently her contemporaries at these gatherings don't make a fuss about her career ambitions, or her unusual educational background (a period of homeschooling that ended in disappointment, to some degree because of raging fundamentalism in that field), or her hair (except possibly to ask how she did it).

In other words, she's accepted. Welcomed, even.

Radical concept, that.

This does hold a lesson for us mainline types in our struggle/quest to move forward (whatever that turns out to mean), and I think it's a fairly obvious one. It is one that the old guard (or at least some of it) didn't always get, feeling compelled (or privileged?) to take up God's role of judgment to themselves. Judging is pretty easy to do, but it's particularly insidious when directed at some designated other, a them perhaps, with the intention of keeping the outsider distinctly and clearly locked away outside. And frankly, it is a nasty little luxury the mainline doesn't have. Any judgment on the part of the mainline needs to be directed at the advocates of injustice in the world, of which there are too many to count. But as to the misfits, the quirky ones, the weirdos or Hufflepuffs or free spirits, the mainline really needs only one simple rule:

Don't be jerks.

Supposedly I'm a Ravenclaw, for what it's worth...

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